A review of Rick Yancey’s “The Fifth Wave”

I picked up a copy of this in the library and intrigued, read the blurb. There is a clear reference to an apocalypse on the blurb but what kind? Undead? Plague? That ambiguity was enough to hook me. I’m glad it did.
This is a wickedly effective page turner that takes the well used sci- fi trope of alien invasion and gives it a decent, scary workout. The story centres on seventeen year old Cassie Sullivan, her family and friends as an Alien mother-ship appears overhead and throws the world into a fever of terrified speculation. It is noted with dread that the Aliens are resisting all attempts at communication. And then the attack ‘waves’ begin and if you want to preserve the surprise I had in finding out what these are, read no further. But I won’t blow what the final ‘wave’ is.
The first wave is ‘lights out,’ a huge EMP pulse that robs the world of power and sends planes falling from the sky. The second, ‘surfs up,’ are huge metal spears thrown down from the stratosphere that impact on costal tectonic weak points, drowning the coasts of the Earth. The third, ‘pestilence,’ is an Ebola type virus spread through birds, and the fourth, the use of sleeper entities implanted in certain human minds at a pre-natal point. These turn the hosts against their fellows.
There’s a terrifying, satisfying logic to the ‘waves.’ Without power we are weakened. An attack on the coasts drives us inland and packs us tightly together, where the pestilence will be horribly effective. The fourth wave destroys trust in the surviving communities, causing humanity to splinter further. And the Fifth….well that’s just as logical and clever, and I won’t spoil it here.
The fourth wave takes up the biggest part of the book, with the other waves only being sketched in retrospect. This works to drive the story forwards. The fourth wave has the longest work, the other waves being over relatively quickly.
The story is told through different viewpoints, but it is Cassie’s that takes most of the narrative and the lead. And what a sassy, engaging lead she is. She has the ultimate in dry and sarcastic wit that provides laugh out loud moments amid the chaos. She’s winningly vulnerable and resourceful. I warmed to her so much that, no matter how gripping the rest of the action, I just wanted her to return.
I did not realise I was reading a ‘young adult’ targeted piece of fiction until about half way through. This is really for the Hunger Games and Twilight market, right round to the fact that it’s a trilogy, begging to be filmed. That the book easily crosses over to a more adult market as is the case especially with ‘The Hunger Games’ is shown by how it didn’t dawn on me until the half way point that this was the case at all. What gave it away to me is perhaps the weakest part of the novel; a central romance between Cassie and the enigmatic Evan Walker, the details I won’t spoil here. But it felt very Twilight and Hunger Games and it is not a good thing I suddenly realised I was reading YA fiction. The burgeoning romance between them is the baggiest section of the book. And there’s also (horrors) hints of a love triangle towards that also echoes Hunger Games.
Justin Cronin, who endorsed this work, did the whole cross over thing better with his ‘The Passage’ novels, which are stronger in tone and to this day I would never pigeon hole as YA.
That’s not to say there isn’t dark stuff here, really strong themes that are cleverly done. There’s genocide, mass killings of communities and the brutalising indoctrination of child soldiers described in some detail. Also, the novel does keep you on your toes, and keeps a nice ambiguous tone about which side a certain military force lies on until the closing quarter.
On the whole this is a cracking read for genre and non genre readers whether young or older adult. The cross over thing has been done better, but on the whole this is an ideal summer beach read.

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